Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by South Gloucestershire Council

1. What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century?

South Gloucestershire Council took over running library services from Avon County Council in 1996; it inherited a poorly funded service based in Bristol. In the subsequent 15 years despite South Gloucestershire Council being one of the lowest funded Councils in England it has made major improvements to both the efficiency and effectiveness of its service.




English unitaries 2011

Issues per 1,000








Visits per 1,000*




Staff per 1,000 pop




Issues per staff




Book acquisitions per 1,000 pop




Membership of 0–3 year olds



Net expenditure per 1,000




* Three libraries closed for refurbishment in this period.

As part of its contribution to the Council’s budget requirements South Gloucestershire Libraries is looking to reduce its budget by £500,000 by 2015–16. We believe that an efficient, comprehensive service can be achieved by keeping libraries open as they ensure a local connection between the Council and community. However we need to ensure that the delivery of back office costs are as efficient as possible and the possibilities that shared delivery of services both locally and regionally can provide is maximised. This response outlines our principles on how we are already delivering a comprehensive and efficient service and shares our experience.

1.1 Key elements for an efficient service

1.1.1 Staffing

South Gloucestershire has one of the lowest staffing levels in England yet the outputs are in the top quartile. We have found that by having a staff team that are trained and motivated will help in delivering services relevant to their local communities. South Gloucestershire libraries provide a positive experience for local people, and demonstrates the value the Council places on its communities. Staff within branches have built up strong local links with their local communities in order that the service can respond to local needs and priorities. This has helped in the promotion of local identity and community pride and in maintaining sustainable communities. The library delivery plan contributes towards the Council’s Sustainable Community Strategy and at local level can ensure that both the authority’s priorities and those identified by the local community and met.

Front line staff are supported by specialist in areas of services that require specialist skills and expertise (eg children’s work).

We are using RFID to reduce the costs of operating the service whilst maintaining the quality and releasing staff to support customers gain the most from use of the service.

1.1.2 Back office services

South Gloucestershire was one of the original members of the LibrariesWest Consortium which includes the library authorities of South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, Bath and N E Somerset, Bristol and Somerset. (see LibrariesWest an essential part of the South Gloucestershire Library Delivery Plan; through working in partnership the service is able to provide the best value for money to our residents and strive for the highest quality library service.

There are many authorities of a similar size to South Gloucestershire (pop 262,000) who could develop a model similar that of LibrariesWest and achieve similar results and efficiencies.

The key elements LibrariesWest are:

shared procurement processes and costs—ICT (Library Management System (LMS) and People’s Network ) and stock purchase (books and other materials);

shared services—management and support of IT systems (LMS and public website), bibliographic services for the purchase of stock, information provision through the Enquiry Centre, marketing, and the development of new services (e-audio and e-books); and

shared training and development.

Working with other agencies

In South Gloucestershire we work closely with other agencies to share aspects of service delivery that will benefit all parties. The service has developed an Active Card in conjunction with the Circadia Leisure Trust, the card not only simplifies membership but enables the services to maximise the marketing opportunities of the data they hold on individuals.

1.1.3 External impact on funding

South Gloucestershire like many authorise has relied heavily on income to support the costs of delivering the service. The use of email and online service enables customers to renew items more easily which has impacted on fines income and the development of downloading of films and music has impacted heavily on income from hire of CDs and DVDs. This loss of income will increase the pressure on library budgets.

1.2 Comprehensive service

South Gloucestershire Library Service ensures it delivers and supports key policy objectives.

1.2.1 A positive future for children and young people

Due to close working between library staff and local schools in the 2011 Summer Reading Challenge 27% of children aged 5–11 took part, one of the highest in England. The Summer Reading Challenge is an example of how libraries contribute the literacy standards in schools; it helps prevent the summer holiday dip in reading, boosts children’s inclination to read at home and widens the range of books children read.

1.2.2 A fulfilling life for older people

We believe that a key element in helping people to live independent lives is to maintain their mental agility. Reading and use of IT in libraries provide a significance role in helping people sustain their mental faculties. Libraries also provide a unique community venue where old and young come together for a shared purpose, no other neutral community venue offers this facility which helps with community cohesion and understanding.

1.2.3 Strong, safe and sustainable communities

As detailed above libraries provide the Council with a “shop front” into the community. In South Gloucestershire 52% of the population use a library, this provides the council with an opportunity to cross promote other services and reach individuals that other sections cannot reach.

South Gloucestershire has tried to ensure that the use of the buildings is maximised and having PCs and WiFi provides an ideal venue for local groups. South Gloucestershire service operates a very simple hiring service for its building which in the 15 years has never had any problems but has resulted in significant use of the buildings on closed days and nights.

1.2.4 Learning, skills, and workforce development

Libraries are key in providing local access to learning both formal (in partnership with local learning providers) and informal learning. The unique offer libraries provide is the opportunity for people to sustain their learning after a course. For example using the PCs in the library when it is convenient for them for them to practice and develop their skills. Having a local venue to promote learning in a non threatening way enables the council to engage with people who might not have considered learning.

1.2.5 Health improvements and wellbeing

As with learning and skills, libraries provide a range of services that support the health agenda, especially in mental health.

Books on Prescription schemes operate in most library authorities and the libraries in England are working on a project to standardise this offer.

Though the Memorandum Of Understanding with the Department of Health libraries are providing definitive health information, signposting to other services and helping people book appointments.

As the health service continues to evolve the public need to be supported in accessing health information and services, libraries are uniquely placed to offer this support.

2. Closures and impact of closures

It is important that libraries are well located, in South Gloucestershire one of our busiest libraries is within a leisure centre that enables us to cross market the opportunities both services provide. We have also tried to provide opening hours should suit local needs and lifestyles. For example opening some libraries mid morning (10.30 am) and closing late (8.00 pm) which meets the needs of those people who work during the day.

A closure of a well situated library will impact on the local community, people will not necessarily use a neighbouring library even if the hours are increased or the range of services improved. Library closures of any kind should be regarded as a last resort to meeting reductions in the budget. There does need to be a continued investment into libraries to ensure that the service remains relevant and attractive to users.

It is also important that library services are available beyond the walls of the library. The online presence is an additional branch library offering almost a full range of library services—information, eBooks, eAudio, reservations and renewals. In addition it can be used to promote services and engage with users through embracing web 2.0.

3. The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964

Local authorities should decide their own levels of service provision. When decisions have been made which balance a number of local considerations, including the wishes of local residents and the authority’s overall budget, it would then be inappropriate for the Secretary of State to reverse this decision in all but the most extreme circumstances.

That said, the demise of the Public Library Standards means that the DCMS does not have a clear set of measurements to assess the level of service an authority is delivering. Publication of government guidelines outlining what it would expect to see as a minimum standard of service within an authority could well be helpful to some local councils. This would be especially helpful in negotiations on S106 agreements and in the emerging Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012